Obama and Romney: Not So Different on Education Issues

Presidential candidates attempt to contrast on charter schools and teacher success.
The two presidential candidates have similar agendas when it comes to education. (Photo of Romney: Getty Images/ Photo of Obama: AFP/Getty Images)
Jul 23, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

So far education has not been at the front and center of either President Barack Obama’s or Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign-trail speeches.

But both candidates feature the topic prominently on their respective websites. Obama relies on his education record in the White House, while Romney presents a 34-page white paper, which includes an introduction by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and several pages dedicated to Obama’s failures.

Bush, who in 2011 appeared with Obama at an education event in Miami, wrote in the foreword, “The federal government must ensure that states embrace the basic principles of expanded school choice, high standards, and effective teaching while at the same time empowering them to carve their own paths toward excellence for all students.”

More: How Stimulus Money Has Impacted Public Education—and What Still Needs to Be Done

Romney’s plan focuses heavily on making Title I and IDEA funds more transferable so that parents have more choice in where their children attend schools. This would include low-income and special needs students. According to his white paper, “This plan will allow the student to choose from any district or public charter school, or a private school where permitted by state law, or to use funds toward a tutoring provider or digital course.”

Obama, unlike many Democrats, has often praised charter schools. His views on school choice often frustrate teachers unions. Last May, he even proclaimed a “National Charter Schools Week.”

“Whether created by parents and teachers or community and civic leaders, charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country,” he said in a release tied to his proclamation.

Obama’s plan centers on “out-educating” the rest of world. He sees education as a key way for the United States to be competitive in the global economy.

His “Race To The Top” program has raised standards, helped teachers improve, and turned around struggling schools, according to the Obama campaign’s website. The program has also given grants to 21 states and the District of Columbia to adopt education reform.

Both candidates agree that recruiting and rewarding teachers is a critical step in order for the United States to compete with other countries.

In order to do this, Romney would use flexible block grants. States receiving the grants would have to promote teacher quality based on performance. Romney’s plan also streamlines the teacher certification process.

Last week, Obama announced a new plan to create a $1 billion Master Teacher Corps that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math. Teachers selected for the program would receive an additional $20,000 a year with a commitment to teach several years. The White House cites a February report by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology which found that in order for the United States to keep up with the world’s economic demands, the number of students receiving degrees in science, math, and related fields must increase by 34 percent.

Both Romney and Obama have praised and criticized former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law.

The Obama Administration has allowed exemptions from the law’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 in exchange for state-developed plans that “prepare all students for college and career, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

As of last week, 32 states have received waivers.

While their platforms may be slightly different, Romney and Obama are more similar than different on their agenda, especially in regard to charter schools and the United States finding ways to excel over other countries.

The economy and job creation will be at the forefront of this presidential race, but the candidates will likely, and smartly, link education to both.

Do you feel the candidates are focusing enough time and attention on education? Share your thoughts in the comments.